Government regulation can play a key role in managing plastic waste.
Interview with Rosmel Rodríguez, EU Climate Pact Ambassador

This interview was conducted by Brice Garreau

 

Plastic pollution contributing to climate change?

Yes, plastic pollution does contribute to climate change in several significant ways:

Emissions during production: Plastics are derived from fossil fuels and emit greenhouse gases at every stage of their life cycle. From extraction and transportation of these fossil fuels, which is a carbon-intensive activity, to refining and manufacturing, which cranks up emissions significantly. For instance, in 2015, emissions from manufacturing ethylene, the building block for polyethylene plastics, were equivalent to about as much as 45 million passenger vehicles emit during one year (Bauman & Bauman, 2022).

Waste management: About 40% of plastics are used as packaging, which is usually meant for a single use, leading to a quick turnover to disposal. Waste incineration, one of the methods for managing this waste, has the largest climate impact of the three primary disposal options (landfill, incineration, or recycling). Emissions from plastics incineration in the U.S. were 5.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2015 and are projected to increase significantly by 2050 (Bauman & Bauman, 2022).

Bauman, B., & Bauman, B. (2022). How plastics contribute to climate change. Yale Climate Connections.

The consequences of poor plastic waste management on climate but also on livelihoods and ecosystems is an urgent development challenge?

Absolutely, poor plastic waste management has profound implications not just for the climate, but also for livelihoods and ecosystems.

Climate: As discussed earlier, plastic production, use, and disposal contribute to greenhouse gas emissions and thus to climate change. Mismanaged plastic waste, particularly when it is incinerated in the open, also contributes to these emissions.

Livelihoods: In many parts of the world, people's livelihoods are closely tied to the health of their local environment. For example, in coastal communities, fishing is often a major source of income. When plastic pollution harms marine life, it can severely impact these communities. Moreover, jobs in recycling and waste management can be affected by poor plastic waste management practices.

Ecosystems: Plastic waste can have devastating effects on ecosystems. In marine environments, animals can ingest plastic or become entangled in it, which can lead to injury or death. On land, plastic can contaminate soil and waterways, affecting both wildlife and plant life. Microplastics, tiny fragments of plastic less than 5mm in size, can also make their way into the food chain, with potential implications for human health.

Addressing the issue of plastic waste, therefore, is indeed an urgent development challenge. It requires not only technological solutions, such as improved recycling processes and alternatives to plastic, but also systemic changes, such as better waste management infrastructure, policy interventions, and changes in consumer behavior.

These wastes are still scattered in nature, what should be done?

Addressing the issue of plastic waste scattered in nature requires a multi-faceted approach that includes both prevention and cleanup efforts.

Increase recycling rates: One of the most effective ways to prevent plastic waste from ending up in the environment is to increase recycling rates. This can be done through better consumer education about recycling, investment in recycling infrastructure, and policy measures such as deposit return schemes.

Develop alternatives to single-use plastics: Finding sustainable alternatives to single-use plastics can also help reduce the amount of plastic waste that is generated. This could include things like compostable packaging, reusable shopping bags, and biodegradable materials.

Implement stricter regulations: Government regulation can play a key role in managing plastic waste. This could include measures like banning certain types of single-use plastics, mandating that companies take responsibility for the waste generated by their products, and implementing stricter penalties for illegal dumping.

Cleanup efforts: Efforts to physically remove plastic waste from the environment are also important. This can include beach cleanups, initiatives to remove plastic from rivers and oceans, and programs to clean up litter in cities and towns.

Promote Circular Economy: Encouraging a circular economy where waste is minimized and resources are kept in use for as long as possible can also help to reduce plastic pollution. This could involve designing products to be more durable, reusable, and recyclable, and creating systems for product take-back and repair.

Consumer education: Educating consumers about the environmental impact of plastic waste and how to reduce their own plastic use can also be an effective strategy.

These are just a few possible approaches. The best solutions will likely involve a combination of many different strategies, tailored to the specific circumstances of different regions and communities.

Plastic consumption in third world countries is much more than in developed countries. what is your opinion?

The assertion that plastic consumption in third-world countries is much higher than in developed countries does not seem to be exactly accurate. According to available data, China had the largest share of global plastics use in 2019, at just over 20%, followed closely by the United States with 18% of global plastics use (Statista, 2023).

However, this does not necessarily mean that "consumption" is higher in developing countries overall. In fact, high-income countries generate more plastic waste per person. But, most of the plastic that ends up in the ocean comes from rivers in low-to-middle-income countries. This is because they tend to have more mismanaged plastic waste, whereas high-income countries have much more effective waste management (Ritchie & Roser, 2022). This means that while developed countries might generate more plastic waste per capita, developing countries might have more plastic ending up in the environment due to improper waste management.

References:
Statista. (2023). Global plastics use amounted to 460 million metric tons in 2019. Retrieved from http://statista.com
Ritchie, H., & Roser, M. (2022). Plastic Pollution. Our World in Data. Retrieved from http://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollut

Plastic pollution is suffocating the world. Why do the governments of developed countries treat the third world like their trash?

The issue of plastic pollution is indeed a serious global problem, and it's compounded by complex factors such as international trade dynamics, waste management infrastructure, and policy decisions.

There's a significant concern about the export of plastic waste from developed to developing countries. Developed countries have been exporting their plastic waste to developing countries for many years under the premise that these countries have the capacity to recycle this waste. This has been heavily criticized because often these countries do not have adequate infrastructure to properly manage and recycle such waste, leading to environmental pollution and public health problems.

However, it's important to note that this is not a simple issue of developed countries "treating the third world like their trash." There are economic incentives involved – for example, it's often cheaper for developed countries to export their waste than to process it domestically. At the same time, some developing countries have accepted this waste because they see economic opportunity in processing and recycling it.

In recent years, there have been moves to address these issues. For instance, a landmark amendment was passed to the Basel Convention in 2019, which restricts the export of plastic waste to other countries without their consent. Also, China, which used to be the world's largest importer of plastic waste, implemented the "National Sword" policy in 2018, banning the import of most kinds of solid waste and setting stricter contamination limits for the waste materials they do accept.

Still, the global plastic waste problem persists, and there is a lot of work to be done. It requires international cooperation, stronger regulations, and investment in waste management and recycling infrastructure. Plus, there's a need to reduce overall plastic production and consumption, and to shift towards a more circular economy where waste is minimized and resources are reused as much as possible.

COMMENT

S Sandi Walters

One of the most environmentally damaging industries is the clothing industry

11 months ago

COMMENT


H Henri

Plastic waste over the flood plains of Cherechera.

11 months ago

COMMENT


E Ecolo

Plastic bottles are problematic! ⚠️ They contain polyethylene terephthalate, leach chemicals into the water they hold, & are known endocrine disruptors. Instead of being recycled, most are sent to landfills, shipped overseas, dumped, & burned.

11 months ago

COMMENT


P Pierre Antonie

CocaColaCo is Uganda's Biggest Plastic Polluter. This continues to negatively impact communities and destroy our environment.

11 months ago

COMMENT


The best of Tired Earth delivered to your inbox

Sign up for more inspiring photos, stories, and special offers from Tired Earth